Amanda McCaslin, director of the Winslow Parks and Recreation Department, Paul Fongemie, director of the Public Works Department, and Town Council Chairperson Ray Caron with the new Winslow food recycling sign. Susanne Lee photo

On Thursday, when the world celebrates Earth Day, Winslow is beginning a food waste recycling program aimed at protecting natural resources and saving money.

In partnership with the Sen. George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine, Winslow is the first to take the leap among a handful of towns starting the pilot program. A new community food recycling drop-off site will be located at the Winslow Public Library.

“We had certain key communities in the Kennebec Valley, and this is a good target area,” said Susanne Lee, the faculty fellow at the Mitchell Center who made an initial presentation to the Winslow Town Council in January. “We had interest in the area, and there really weren’t any existing food recycling efforts.”

Winslow Town Council Chairperson Ray Caron applauded the town for being a leader in food recycling.

“Number one is it’s great for the environment,” Caron said. “If you can get waste out of the stream, then that’s a very positive thing.”

The pilot program is expected to save the town between $363 and $3,516 a year, depending on participation. To break even, just 10% of Winslow’s households need to participate by recycling 90% of their food waste.

The project also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the cost of trash collection.

AgraCycle will pick up Winslow’s food waste. AgraCycle already picks up locally at Hannaford, Walmart and MaineGeneral.

Winslow previously partnered with I Recycle Inc. in Waterville, but it was not as substantial a program. The new project is expected to save the town about $150 per ton in what it spends to send waste to a landfill.

Travis Blackmer, undergraduate coordinator at the University of Maine School of Economics, said the town of Winslow throws out an estimated 400 to 800 tons of food waste per year.

“For Winslow, their break-even point is reasonably low,” Blackmer said. “The big thing to think about is towns all across Maine: They’re all spending an outrageous amount of money to truck and landfill food.”

The program is also a partnership with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and supported by the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

Winslow has scheduled an official kickoff gathering for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, at which town officials and children from the Winslow Public Schools will usher in the program.

A 6 p.m. session called “What is Food Recycling” is to be led by Mark King, an organics management specialist at the Maine DEP. Attendees will receive a kitchen composting bucket for discarded food. Residents are to bring their food waste to the drop-off site at the library, dump it into the lime green recycling bins and bring their bucket home to start the process again.

Winslow officials are planning to ing to start with two of the lime green bins for food waste in an area monitored by security cameras.

King said the state has encouraged food waste recycling since 2004. It has also encouraged backyard composting.

“If you start small, success breeds more success,” King said. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

King said there is a waste hierarchy, with disposal being the last option. For food, recycling and composting are better.

About 40% of food that is produced is never eaten, according to the Mitchell Center, yet one in eight Maine adults and one in five Maine children experiences food insecurity. Overall, Maine has the 12th-highest rate of food insecurity in the United States, yet 30% of Maine’s solid waste stream is food.

Winslow Elementary School already participates in a food waste recycling program. Beginning in 2017, the school has worked with Agri-Cycle of Scarborough to divert food waste from the school, including its kitchen.

Tracked through the Town Office, the plan saves money in tipping fees and combines waste with cow waste to produce methane gas and electricity. The cost savings have amounted to about $40 per ton.

“I think every time I see food waste going into those totes, I know it will help generate some electricity, which is something I’ll say to students and staff,” said Kyle Price, assistant principal at Winslow Elementary School. “It’s been easy for us to do.”

Hannah Crayton of Winslow is a Thomas College student who is involved in the town’s new waste recycling program. She is a junior majoring in environmental science and policy and minoring in education, is an intern at the Mitchell Center. She is working on the school-target communication and education program at the elementary school.

Crayton said Winslow’s program is full of activities meant to be integrated into the existing curriculum: Science projects, composting-at-home activities and meal cards encouraging discussions about food waste at home and providing recipes.

“I think that this is important for Winslow because we’re such a community-driven place,” Crayton said, “and I do know that when talking to the elementary school, that they produce a lot of food waste, that they have a lot of waste in the school district, so I can only imagine what it is for residential.

“It’s a great way, especially going through the schools, to get the community involved. The students will go home and tell their parents what they are doing in school. It’s going to be a great way for parents and students to get involved together.”

After the town’s food recycling program is launched this week, the Mitchell Center will assess its impact on a monthly bases, including tracking food diversion, cost savings and consumer education initiatives.

Winslow is not the only community involved in the project, but it is the first to get things rolling. The Waterville City Council has also approved a food waste recycling program, but city officials have yet to decide where to locate a food waste drop-off site.

The Mitchell Center has also made presentations to other communities in central Maine, including Fayette, Readfield, Wayne and Winthrop. It is also looking to add Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, but discussions so far have only been surface level.

“Winslow is the lead in this, and we have to commend them,” Lee said. “They were very responsive and responsible with their residents in terms of the finances.”

Getting the program going is a start, organizers said, but household participation is key.

“It’s the restart of recycling in Winslow, and maybe we can add to it, too,” Caron said. “We’ve got to get tonnage to pay for the program.”

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